TOMY, the world’s fourth largest toy company, is rolling out a mobile app for its sales team that it says has already helped some early adopters achieve a 20 percent increase in customer orders.
The SAP-based app is the newest piece of technology that the company has developed since it implemented SAP’s e-commerce platform across the business in April 2007.
“They say the first five years are the worst with SAP because it’s such a steep learning curve,” Stuart Kahn, IT manager at TOMY told ComputerworldUK.
“We’re over that. This is the first, real piece of new development we’ve done now we understand it more.”
The app can be used on any mobile device, from laptops to Apple and Android tablets. It is designed to give TOMY’s sales staff and its third-party sales agents the ability to go to its business customers, which include independent toy shops to the likes of Toys R Us and Tesco, with up-to-date product, stock and marketing material.
Instead of going to customers with a price list on a piece of paper, sales staff can now show customers information that was previously only available back in the office, such as promotional videos and presentations, which customers may be overdue on payment and the latest stock statuses indicated by a traffic light system.
“The sales team were really excited about that. Now, they’re more in tune with what’s going on,” said Kahn.
Sales agents can also take orders from the customers, the details of which are synchronised with TOMY’s back office systems when the app is connected to the internet, to produce a sales order within minutes.
Development work on the multilingual app started in January 2013 and it went live to sales agents who serve smaller retailers in the UK, Ireland and France, in September 2013.
“This is the only project we’ve worked on that’s been on time and on budget,” said Kahn.
Spain and Germany will be the next two markets to receive the app.
“One early adopter saw an increase of 20 percent in the orders they were taking. And the field sales manager can only put it down to the app. It was the only change that was made,” Kahn added.
When TOMY acquired and merged toymaker RC2 into the business, it had two systems to choose from, SAP or JD Edwards. Kahn came from the RC2 side of the company, which was using SAP. He said that SAP was chosen as the “better platform to grow the business”.
However, for the first five years, SAP was being used “very traditionally”, Kahn said, for features such as credit invoicing, accounting and general ledger.
TOMY’s IT operation is based in Devon, where the SAP system is hosted. Prior to SAP, the toymaker had an “old, traditional, small ERP system” and a B2B website.
“We were the first toy company to give [business] customers a chance to order toys online,” said Kahn.
He has also been working on mobility for 10 years, “since HP brought out those tablets”, and the company had a mobile platform, but it had to wait for the web platform to “catch up”.
As well as an SAP back end, the app comprises Sybase and Microsoft ASP.NET middleware and a local device database in a sybase hybrid web container front end. TOMY worked with mobile consultancy itelligence on the app, with itelligence concentrating on the Sybase end, while Kahn’s IT team worked on the development.
“We drew a line in the sand and said it has to cost this much money. We worked in partnership with itelligence. They shared the cost of development. They just can’t sell it to another toy company for a year,” Kahn said.
TOMY is now working on a second version of the app, to include things it couldn’t get into the first version on time, such as the ability to add a comment to the order. This is a feature already available back in the office.
In terms of future IT projects, TOMY is weighing up the options for going to virtualised servers or moving to a cloud-hosted solution.
“We need to upgrade. Our servers are getting old. They’re seven years old. We’re expanding,” said Kahn.
The company is also bringing in SAP BusinessObjects this year, to run alongside its SAP Business Information Warehouse installation.